‘Brokeback Mountain’ by Annie Proulx

Okay, this is not a recent discovery. I read it at least once a year, for its technical deftness and the gut punch of its emotions. Sometimes I write the first line of each section on a piece of paper, trying to figure out how Proulx managed to string the decades together with such ease. The balance of scene and summary is perfect. There’s a bit where she describes how the bodies of Ennis and Jack have changed over the years – broken noses healed crooked, teeth filed down, moustaches grown, accents shifting. And it’s just so moving. I think it was the first story that ever made me cry. There’s something devastating about the clash between the lovers’ wordless feelings and so-called traditional wisdom – “If you can’t fix it, you’ve got to stand it.”

First published in The New Yorker, October, 1997. Collected in Close Range: Wyoming Stories, Harper Perennial, 1999

‘Brokeback Mountain’ by Annie Proulx

I include this for its confidence and scale. I re-visit this story often – to see the way that Proulx crafts the final detail of the men’s shirts interlaced one against the other, the passage of time, the masculinity. I saw the film before I read the story and find I cry throughout both. The intensity of the desire and the repression. I always loved Heath Ledger and admired his courage in taking this role that he said terrified him. Proulx squeezes the maximum out of this story of impossible love over 20 years. Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar are indelible figures set against a raw rural working world – from the first encounter in the tent, to Del Mar’s vomiting, to the sex scene in the hotel: “The room stank of semen and smoke and sweat and whiskey, of old carpet and sour hay, saddle leather, shit and cheap soap.” A story of men and class and desire and love. Devastating at its core with Del Mar’s inability to create a different life for them. Unrelentingly heartbreaking and unrelentingly real. “I wish I knew how to quit you.”

First published in The New Yorker, October, 1997. Collected in Close Range: Wyoming Stories, Harper Perennial, 1999